lessons from Much-Afraid {the aerial chairs}

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There is a small part of Much-Afraid’s journey that after I read Hannah Hurnard’s journal I was shocked that 1. I seemed to just brush through it and 2. that she didn’t write more about it.

After the mist clears the Shepherd leads Much-Afraid into the Valley of Loss. Again, he has brought her through and then away from the mountains. It seems beyond heartbreaking to her as she walks down into a valley to give up all that she had gained from climbing the precipice. Yet again, she makes it through the valley only by giving up another part of her human desire and will only to be led to another precipice. This one seems even more impossible to climb than the first one. But before she loses heart the Shepherd shows her some aerial chairs that they can sit in and ride to the top. The chairs lead her to the top of the waterfall and to the beginning of the end of her journey.

This whole section of the book is only a few pages. But in Hannah’s journal she writes for pages and pages about her experience with the aerial chairs where she is staying in Switzerland. They are called the Sesselbahn and they lead riders up and over this great chasm to this chateau at the top. I tried to look up some pictures of the original Sesslbahn in Switzerland from the 1970’s when she was there, but I couldn’t really find any. Her description was so fascinating to me.

There they were -those tiny chairs with no sides or backs – only a couple of bars. The cable by whose power they traveled overhead and at a great distance, was quite invisible. Underneath there was nothing but the abyss and no earthly ground of support. All one saw was two moving chairs, apparently hanging in the air. But they were supported from above!… One had to be willing to trust the invisible power, sit down on a chair and abandon oneself completely.

She doesn’t travel on these chairs the first time she sees them but has arranged a time to go up to this chateau with companions she was staying with. Only the day comes and she misses the group. She arrives at the station only to see that they have gone on without her. She must travel alone or not go at all. Then right when she gets the nerve to go, the operator informs her that the chairs are having maintenance issues. She can go up as they bring down the last group and then wait to come back down after the cable had been fixed. This was her last chance to go. If she didn’t go that day then she would miss the chance. So she goes on alone. No one to talk to her, reassure her or hold her hand. And for fifteen minutes she was suspended in air up to the heights. There was nothing she could do but enjoy it and revel in the creation, for where could she go if she panicked? She arrives at the top and she knows that the Lord brought her through in order to speak clearly to her a message. Had she not faced her fears and gone on as the Spirit was urging her she might have missed it.

So many times in my life I have let fear run it’s course. Instead of listening to that urging of the Spirit I have listened to fear. I have let anxiety and worry and control take over. How many times have I missed a calling because I have ignored where the Lord was urging me to go?

And, oh the times when I have gone or have done what He has called me to do despite the fear. When I have gotten on a airplane by myself and traveled miles into the mountains with 500 women I don’t know? What amazing things did He do then! When I continue to answer the call to stay home. When I continue to write in this space…

Had Much-Afraid not ridden to the heights with the Shepherd she would have missed her anointing and the beginning of her transformation. May I not ignore the places the Lord is calling me to despite the heights for the heights that He leads us too are beyond our imagining.

 

giggles on an April Fool’s morning
“indeeds” on an Easter day
egg hunts through a lens with memories of years past
a week ahead with time to give
a new month
mornings without tears
forgiveness
prayer cards
lessons to be learned
mist in the morning that gives way to sunlight and clearing
cleansing
anxiety washing away into excitement






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lessons from Much-Afraid {into the mist}

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It seems Much-Afraid goes through this cycle of wandering towards the Promise and then being turned away from it. Following the path irregardless of where it leads as she sacrifices another part of her will; only to be faced with another direction that seems in opposition to the path she desires.

She makes it up the precipice only to be led into the Forests of Danger and Tribulation. She meets with the Shepherd, sacrifices her will and finds this place of contentment with the path he has chosen for her. Then she wakes up ready to face whatever and walks into the mist. She is energized to keep following.

This mist that she and her companions journey through is deep. They cannot see anything beyond a few footsteps in front of them. So quickly her enemies pounce upon her, whispering at her in the mist: Resentment for leading her here, Bitterness at the way she has to go, Self-Pity at giving up so much of herself for what seems like a failed path. The more she listens the harder the way becomes. Not only has it been hard to see where to go, but now she slips and slides all over the muddy ground. She has a choice: To continue to listen to her enemies or to call out to the Shepherd.

So she sings. She worships and he comes.

As Much-Afraid walks through this mist, as we walk through unseen directions, it is a reminder to remember. To remember what she, what we, have seen…to ask ourselves “what is true here?” Because what is true is always there even though it can’t be seen.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things which are seen but to the things which are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. ~ 2 Corinthians 4:18

Much-Afraid’s story grew from an experience that Hannah Hurnard had while staying in Switzerland in between burying her father and journeying back to her mission in Jerusalem. She was staying in the Swiss Alps and throughout her visit there she wandered along mountainsides, in and out of rain, clouds and sun. She tells the story of a visit to a hillside one day and it started to rain. She started to be depressed in spirit because she no longer had the amazing vista of the Alps in front of her. Quickly she was reminded of a message given to her from a friend:
“‘Go through each day praising and thanking God for everything that happens!’ Nothing can take from me the memories and and beauties and lessons.

The Lord speaks to her and reminds her that this is life: seeing and not seeing. There are times in our lives where we will see clearly and then times when everything seems shrouded in darkness and the unknown. But despite whether we can “see” or not, the reality is always there. The darkness will pass away and the promises will still be there.

Today and tomorrow are days in darkness. But despite the arrest, trial and death of Jesus, despite the denial and fear of the disciples, despite the hours of darkness tomorrow, the reality is still there.

God never turns His face from us. We may walk through mist. We may walk in and out of darkness. But His way is always good and He always loves us.

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. ~ John 16:33

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lessons from much-afraid {joy and sorrow}

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One of the things that is a constant refrain through much of Much-Afraid’s journey is that when she is headed in the direction of the mountains, and on the path that she thinks she needs to go, she is joyful. When the path turns away from the promise (or so it seems) she is completely disheartened. It is a lesson that the Shepherd repeats for the first part of her journey over and again.

Those times that the path seems to move away are the times that she is overcome by her enemies. Craven Fear, Bitterness, Pride, Resentment and Self-Pity move in like a pack of lions and try to devour her spirit. The Shepherd has reminded her to call out to him when these enemies show their faces and it’s a lesson that takes time for her to learn. By the second or third time these Fearlings have shown their faces she begins to realize that she does have power over them. She can call out to the Shepherd and she can also sing. In chapter six as they start over the Great Sea Wall and her enemies are surrounding her she lifts up her voice and declares Psalm 27:6
And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord. As she sings these words aloud her enemies are distracted and their taunts are drowned out.

But even after this great success over her enemies, her hope continues to rest upon her circumstances. The direction she is moving or the scenery around here – even the way of the path in front of her. After the Sea Wall she comes to a great wall in front of her. Not only has the Shepherd led her away from the direction she desired to go, he has now led her to what seems an impasse. Craven Fear shows up as she watches the deer bounce along this great precipice. And instead of calling out to the Shepherd she listens to Fear. She opens up her imagination to all the things that are impossible about this way. She fears calling out to the Shepherd because she knows what he will ask her to do and she is terrified.

But she does call and he responds. “I love doing preposterous things…turning weakness to strength, fear to faith and something marred into perfection.” He brings her to the absolute point where in her own strength she could never do it. Like Sarah and Abraham having a baby. Like Mary being the Mother of God. Places where there is no way but to say “it is of the Lord.”

As she starts to climb with the Shepherd beside her she realizes that it is not as scary as she thought. They edges are not as small as they seemed. The way not as hard to overcome as it looked. But her imagination must remain closed; for what she imagines is often much more unnerving and terrible than what actually is.

She mounts this horrible precipice with great joy and satisfaction. And then again is led away from the mountains. And again she is disheartened at the way she is to go. What patience the Great Shepherd has to repeatedly teach her (and us) the same lesson over and again until we finally submit! He leads her to a place where she abandons her will. She makes another alter and sacrifices another part of her will. And the Shepherd gently reminds her:
don’t ever allow yourself to begin to try and picture what the path ahead will be like – when you get the places you dread (or the direction that seems opposite) they will be as different as possible than what you imagined.”

Trust. It’s about trust. And we lost trust in the Garden and all of us this side of Eden will continue to build alters of our wills. Like Much-Afraid, our Shepherd continues to lead us and remind us that He does have our best interest at heart. He who began a good work in us is faithful to finish it. It’s the finishing that is so terribly hard.

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lessons from much-afraid {the first lesson}

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Much-Afraid begins her journey by meeting up with her guides. She is almost immediately set with disappointment because this journey is not going the way she had planned. Who would want to journey with guides named Sorrow and Suffering?

In chapters six and seven she experiences even more frustration. She starts her journey going up a mountain. Although the way is hard, she stays with it because it seems to be going the way she wants to go. Then the path leads them away and away from her heart’s desire. It leads her away from the promise the Shepherd had given her. The path leads them into a desert; just about as far away from the High Places that the Shepherd could lead her and there is no prospect of turning back towards those peaks in the vision that she sees. The Shepherd comes to her and asks her: “Do you love me enough to accept the postponement and apparent contradiction of the promise and go down into the desert?

Down into the desert she goes giving up another part of her will and adds another stone of trust to her bag. Here the Shepherd tells her the stories of all the others that were led through the desert. He gives her the pictures of the wheat being ground almost to dust in order to make it perfect for it’s use as flour and the picture of the potter molding and shaping the clay into a vessel perfect. The pictures of submission to the greater will of the one who knows best.

Leaving the desert they move in a westward direction. She comes through the desert with a will to follow wherever the Shepherd leads and he leads her directly away from the High Places. Oh poor Much-Afraid’s heart! How hard it is when we come to places in our lives where we offer up our will and then the Lord asks for even more!

But he tells her: “remember it is always safe to obey my voice even if it seems to call you to paths which look impossible or even crazy.” So now Much-Afraid has left her green valley, walked through the desert and now walks along the Shores of Loneliness. She grabs the hands of her companions and they walk, but something has happened to her. Acceptance has blossomed and as she walks
she doesn’t go cringingly or complainingly. Indeed, gradually an impossible thing seemed to be happening. A new kind of joy was springing up in her heart, and she began to find herself noticing beauties in the landscape of which until then she had been quite unconscious.

She discovers what Ann Voskamp calls the Ugly-Beautiful.
Much-Afraid is finding the Ugly-Beautiful in the midst of lost promises. She can’t even see the mountains from these shores that she walks along, but she walks and takes in the beauty of where she is.

This Holy Week is a week of finding the Ugly Beautiful. As we sit on the edge of Maundy Thursday and the story of Christ’s betrayal and arrest it is a reminder of this way of the impossible. To the disciples this week becomes an ultimate loss of the promise. They don’t understand what happens in the Garden and how it could even lead to anything close to what they had thought would happen in their minds. They are like Much-Afraid being led into the Shores of Loneliness.
They sleep, they deny and they run away in fear.
They grab the hands of Sorrow and Suffering and cling desperately to the Promise that they can’t even see.
Thankfully it’s not the end of the story.

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lessons from Much-Afraid {introduction}

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I’m rereading the book Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. I read it once years ago in high school not long after I started walking with Christ; I’m not even sure I made it all the way through it. When I went to Captivating years ago, one of the speakers brought it up and so when I returned home I found a used copy in a bookstore. There it sat on my shelf. I picked it up a few weeks ago ago and I’ve been slowly reading through it. It’s an allegorical story and one that I think you could reread at very different seasons of your life and pick up on very different parts of the story.

It is the story of Much-Afraid who lives in the Valley of Humiliation. She longs to venture up into the High Places with the Shepherd, but she is lame and disfigured. She thinks herself unworthy for the journey and unable. She is surrounded by her family of Fearlings, among other enemies. She is invited by the Shepherd to join her on the journey and he plants a seed, a thorn really, to grow in her heart and lead her to these places. When her family sets forth to marry her off to Craven-Fear she finally is bold enough to run off and join the Shepherd on this journey.

Along the way she is given two guides by the Shepherd; Sorrow and Suffering. But also along the way she is often hounded by her enemies: Craven Fear, Pride, Bitterness, Resentment and Self-Pity. She is taken through many different places during her journey and ultimately it is a story of full self-abandonment and relinquishing our will for His. It is truly a story that I’m following with my life as I seek to relinquish this name of “fear” written on my heart and replace it with utter abandonment to my Great Shepherd.

Join me in the next few weeks as I process through this book and share the things I’m learning from Much-Afraid.

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